Four Wheaton College scholars earn prestigious awards

By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted5/9/2018 2:04 PM

News of three major scholarship awards -- two Fulbrights and a Goldwater -- landed on Wheaton College's doorstep within a few days in early April.

Soon after, a Wheaton College faculty member was awarded a five-year research fellowship.


As a result, this fall an associate professor at Wheaton College will travel to Hungary to work with his Hungarian peers to develop curriculum and conduct research into family therapy.

Around the same time, a Wheaton College alumna will journey to Turkey to teach English.

Both are Fulbright Scholars, a prestigious scholarship award program administered by the U.S. State Department that gives faculty and students opportunities to teach, study and conduct research abroad.

Meanwhile, a junior geology major at Wheaton College, regarded by his professors as a junior colleague, was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship in recognition of his research efforts.

The Goldwater Scholarship was established by Congress in 1986 in honor of Sen. Barry Goldwater. The award is given to college sophomores and juniors who show promise as research leaders in natural sciences, math and engineering.

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And this month, a public health expert and associate professor at Wheaton College will begin a five-year National Institutes of Health nutrition research project in Africa.

Dr. David Van Dyke

Dr. David Van Dyke, associate professor of marriage and family therapy, said he was pleasantly surprised when he received notice that he had won a Fulbright Award that will enable him to work alongside his contemporaries at Esterhazy Karoli University, a state university in Eger, Hungary, for four months beginning in September.

The application process was rigorous.

"It was a long process," he said, beginning with screenings conducted through the U.S. State Department and the Hungarian government, and culminating with an interview before a 12-person panel appointed by the president.

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 and named for the late Arkansas Sen. William Fulbright, who introduced legislation to launch it. The program awards about 6,000 grants each year to people from all over the world.


Van Dyke is a Wheaton College alumnus, having graduated in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He went on to earn a master's degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in California and a Ph.D. in child and family development from the University of Georgia.

"I was hired in 2012 to build the marriage and family therapy master's program at Wheaton College," he said. "I was fortunate to get hired to build the program from scratch."

In 2014, he and Dr. Terri Watson, associate dean of psychology at Wheaton College, began taking annual trips to Prague during spring break to conduct training conferences for eastern and central European clinicians.

That's when Van Dyke said he became aware of the acute need in the region.

"The needs are so great in Central and Eastern Europe for marriage and family therapy," he said.

In 2010, the Hungarian divorce rate was about 67 percent, he said.

"The marriage rate is on the decline," he said, adding that the current rate is only 3.6 people per 1,000. "It's the lowest rate in the European Union."

Van Dyke said Hungary's cultural and political history, including periods of totalitarian rule, have damaged people's ability to trust and take risks and have taken a toll on family life.

"It creates a relational community where it's not safe to be open and vulnerable," he said.

Van Dyke said he hopes to encourage curriculum in Hungary's university psychology programs that address family therapy. He said he will be working with supervisors and clinicians but not directly with clients.

"It's exciting. My hope is that it will have an impact on the students there," he said. "We're also there for cultural exchange. The Fulbright is kind of an academic ambassadorship."

He will be traveling abroad with his wife, Tara, and the two youngest of their four children, who currently attend Wheaton North High School.

Van Dyke said he and a colleague at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, where he previously worked, started a study abroad program some years ago. He has taught in Amsterdam, Greece, Hong Kong and Brazil.

He said between 30 percent and 40 percent of the students enrolled in the family therapy master's program at Wheaton College are international students.

In many cultures outside of the United States, relational therapy, as opposed to therapy that focuses on the individual, is more culturally acceptable, Van Dyke said.

"In family systems therapy, we think about problems that are more relationally based. It's a culturally good fit," he said.

Nadia Dervish

Last summer, Nadia Dervish studied the Turkish language through a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship while living with a host family in Azerbaijan.

This fall, the 2017 Wheaton College graduate, who majored in English and minored in urban studies, will head to Ankara, Turkey, for a two-semester turn at teaching English through a Fulbright Scholarship.

"My dad is from northern Cyprus. He speaks Turkish. He immigrated to the United States in the mid-'50s," she said.

Her mother is a native of England. At home, the family spoke English. Dervish said she did pick up some minimal Turkish phrases when she visited her father's homeland during several summer vacations.

She's looking forward to going back. And she hopes to see her extended family.

"Everyone's still there. My dad was the only one to leave the island," she said.

Dervish is currently working as a substitute teacher at the Young Women's Leadership Charter School of Chicago and waitressing part time.

"This is a great time for me to go. I didn't transition into permanent career plans," she said. "I'm really not quite sure what I want to do for the rest of my life."

She has not yet been given a specific assignment in Turkey, but she said she expects to be placed at a university. She looks forward to working with young people and said she is considering a career as a school psychologist.

Dervish said she is grateful for her undergraduate education.

"Wheaton is a very unique school," she said. "It offers unique opportunities."

Benjamin Hess

Wheaton College junior Benjamin Hess is a geology major who has conducted several research projects with professors Dr. Jeffrey Greenberg and Dr. Stephen Moshier. Hess and one of his professors also are conducting research in a laboratory on the University of Chicago campus.

Wheaton College officials said he is one of 211 Goldwater recipients this year, selected from a pool of 1,280 nominees, recognized for his outstanding research achievements.

"Last summer, I did a National Science Foundation internship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York," he said.

His research there involved studying apatite, a phosphate mineral.

"We're trying to figure out how magma systems evolved," he said. "It's in almost every system. Any magma, any rock body, is going to have a little apatite in it. It's a durable mineral, so it doesn't break down. It's basically a little time capsule. It mostly tells us how the magma changed over time."

Hess also studies fulgurites, which are vitreous, glassy materials formed through the fusion of sand or rock by lightning strikes.

"They're most commonly found on beaches. There's not much in the scientific literature about it. There's so much stuff in soil, there's bound to be some interesting stuff inside of it," he said. "Lightning plays an important role in the early formation of the planets."

Hess said he's long been fascinated by rocks and geochemistry.

"I basically have always had a love for geology," he said. "I also really liked chemistry. And those two go together so well."

Hess said the award carries with it a $7,500 prize per year while the award-winner remains in college.

More importantly, he said, the Goldwater Scholarship opens doors for researchers to pursue their passions. While his postgraduate plans are uncertain, he said he does plan to attend graduate school.

"The Goldwater is regarded as the most prestigious science scholarship in the nation," he said. "It's basically a golden ticket."

Dr. Scott Ickes

Dr. Scott Ickes, an associate professor in the department of applied health sciences at Wheaton College, has won an International Research Scientist Development grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The grant will allow him to conduct research for six months annually for the next five years in Kenya.

"My first trip will be in May. We'll be identifying factors that are identified with suboptimal breast-feeding," he said.

The research will focus on mothers who work in commercial agriculture in Naivasha, a town north of Nairobi.

Two undergraduate students will accompany Ickes for the first three months of his trip while a third student will remain on campus to support data collection.

"We'll be doing in-depth interviews with stakeholders," he said. "This is a research fellowship."

A cross-section of factors that influence breast-feeding practices will be studied in an effort to identify ways to improve pumping and lactation support, he said.

Ickes joined the Wheaton College faculty in August 2017. He was previously a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Public Health, where he continues to serve as an affiliate professor.

His wife and their three young children also will join him in Africa.

Ickes said he won't be on campus for the fall semester but will return in the spring.

"Wheaton has been highly supportive of this grant," he said.

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